In the last post we considered how the Christian faith is not simply about living a good enough life that you will be rewarded with eternal life after you die, but rather about having a relationship with God and coming to know him.
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
What does it mean to ‘know’ God? Do you know God?
You might be thinking “I’m a Christian, of course I know God!”
Yet even from the earliest days of the church there were people who identified as Christians but who understood very little about God and what he was like.
In Acts 5:1-11 a husband and wife lost their lives because they gave into their pride and used deceit to try and promote themselves within the church.
In Acts 20:25-31, Paul warned the church leaders at Ephesus that people from among their own number would corrupt the church for the sake of their own interests.
Most of the book of Galatians concerns Paul warning the church about people who were trying to assert themselves as leaders but were teaching things that would actually destroy people’s faith and hope of eternal life.
There are many other examples in the New Testament (e.g. James 3:13-16, 2 Peter 2:1-3, 1 John 4:1-3, 3 John:9-10, Jude 3-4) which warn of the same thing: that there would be men and women within the church, many in positions of leadership, who will identify as Christians but who won’t have the slightest idea of what God is like or any sort of relationship with him.
We do not have to look far into modern history to see that things are no different today.
Of course, those are examples of some of the worst case scenarios the church will experience and it would be easy for you or I to think that it doesn’t apply to us. I do not expect you are going around trying to corrupt the church or promote yourself.
Yet the same problem can still affect us in a far more subtle and subconscious way. It’s entirely possible to be an “active” Christian – assenting to a set of doctrines, belonging to a community, joining in worship services, enjoying social contact, trying to persuade others to join – without our heart or mind ever really belonging to or being open to God.
It’s entirely possible for a Christian’s faith to be little more than a badge or a construct of one’s own personal identity without any real knowledge of or relationship with God involved.
Jesus warned us of this when he said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21–23)
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 22:11–13)
Can you imagine yourself in either of those situations? Telling Jesus of all the things you did because you believed in him, only to be told you never actually knew him at all? Or coming before him at his return to Earth, expecting to be included among his chosen ones, only to be told you hadn’t done a single thing to prepare yourself to meet him?
Is your faith part of a genuine relationship with God or is it simply part of a personal identity you have constructed to provide meaning and value in your life?
Paul says that the Christian life must be one of transformation:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1–2)
Is that transformation genuinely taking place in your life?
Are you simply a member of a church in the same way that someone might be a member of a football supporters’ club or a chess club?
Or are you truly a child of God, a member of God’s family?